NEWTON, Mass., July 24, 2012 – The highest ranking Roman Catholic Church official to be found guilty of covering up crimes against children in the Church’s decades-old clergy sexual abuse scandalwas sentenced today in a Philadelphia court. Msgr. William Lynn, former head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia office for making priest assignments, was sentenced to up to six years in prison for child endangerment in that he transferred pedophile priests secretly.
Lynn’s trial was a textbook example of how the Church has fought to maintain its reputation and treasure at the expense of innocence and the destructive effects of child abuse. With Lynn’s conviction and sentencing, concerned Catholics and others can only hope for more accountability. Also with Lynn’s conviction, the contrasts between the handling of the sex abuse scandals by the Church and Pennsylvania State University, a secular institution, stand out sharply. One glaring disparity between the two is that children abused by clergy most often must seek justice through civil trials,while the Church maintains perpetrators and abettors in their clerical positions, in spite of the fact that the underlying crimes are the same:
- the sexual abuse of children and cover-up by hierarchical officials;
- callous disregard for the harm done to vulnerable children in favor of protecting the image, reputation and honors of the institution; and
- shifting of the story from the lifelong wounds and needs of the actual victims to the “victimhood” of the perpetrators and others who get caught in the consequences.
But when evidence of such horrific wrongdoing at Penn State seeped out, and was confirmed by an independent investigation, those responsible were held accountable by appropriate criminal and civil actions brought in the name of victims. The conviction of former football coach Jerry Sandusky, firings of the highest university staff by trustees, harsh NCAA sanctions and the inevitability of civil lawsuits show clearly how Penn State has been held accountable for its crimes and gross malfeasance.
In the Catholic Church, however, the hierarchy has covered up systemic abuse of children in diocese after diocese, religious order after religious order. Church officials claim exemption from the way secular society treats these crimes based on their self-perpetuated views that clergy are separate, above and exempt from the same norms that apply to everyone else. So, when the Church commits crimes:
- no full independent investigation by qualified investigators outside the hierarchy’s control takes place;
- statutes of limitations run out, too often precluding criminal or civil reviews of evidence, while the hierarchy fights tenaciously against statute of limitation reform in state after state; and
- no local trustees, a la Penn State, are available to judge the merits of the revelations on the grounds of ethical behavior, common decency and Gospel values.
Bishops in Catholic dioceses are accountable to no one, under Canon Law, except the pope. In the United States, the Vatican has not held a single bishop accountable for failing to do what decency, ethics and Gospel values alone, not to mention civil law, would expect from leaders of a secular institution, let alone a religious one. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the closest approximation of an oversight body such as the NCAA, has never even approached the types of sanctions the NCAA has levied against Penn State.
If survivor advocates, the media and the courts (in those limited cases where courts have jurisdiction) had not been working for years to shine light on clergy sexual abuse, the public would have continued to hear only the hierarchy’s spin whenever allegations of abuse surfaced.
In those cases of Church wrongdoing that have gone to trial, the evidence of what happened at the time of abuse and thereafter shows the same pattern as at Penn State. Fortunately, unlike the Catholic hierarchy, most secular institutions cannot keep the evidence hidden, and none can escape accountability when the evidence is revealed, evaluated and judged.
The time has come, and long since passed, for the same truth, justice and accountability seen at Penn to be seen in the Church. Penn State has experienced severe justice and accountability served. Nothing comparable has occurred within the Catholic Church.
Voice of the Faithful: Voice of the Faithful is a worldwide movement of concerned mainstream Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in governance and guidance of the Church. More information is at https://www.votf.org.
Contact—Nick Ingala, 781-559-3360 Office, 617-291-3495 Cell, firstname.lastname@example.org